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Mobile Workforce (and How to Safeguard it!)

Whether exploring new business opportunities abroad, meeting up with partners in the supply chain or visiting overseas sites, many workers, as part of a mobile workforce, are required to travel for business purposes.

UK-based employers have a duty of care towards their employees, including those travelling or deployed overseas, whether on a commuter or short-term basis, or as part of a longer-term arrangement.

Employers must take all reasonable precautions to ensure the safety and security of employees working in other jurisdictions, and to protect from foreseeable risk of injury, disease or death, otherwise risk being held legally accountable.

In addition to meeting your legal duties, safeguarding the health and welfare of your mobile workforce brings many organisational benefits. It can reduce costly interruptions to business activities, allow for the development of new opportunities which could have otherwise been lost, generate a positive return on investment, reduce exposure to criminal liability and reputational damage, while enhancing corporate image and improve worker morale and motivation through a safe and healthy working environment.

For employers, it will be important to understand the regulatory framework and the impact this on designing and implementing strategies to safeguard a globally mobile workforce.

Published guidance

In discharging your legal duty of care as an employer, you should refer to the BSI code of practice designed to safeguard travellers, namely PAS3001:2016 “Travelling for Work – Responsibilities of an Organisation for Health, Safety and Security”.

Developed by the British Standards Institution (BSI) in association with industry experts and International SOS, the world’s largest medical and travel security risk services company, the code of practice has been developed to give organisations a tool to help them protect their mobile workforce and themselves. It provides recommendations on organisational responsibility in respect of the health, safety and security risks posed to employees who are travelling for work.

The code also notes that security alone is insufficient, with employers needing to engage further to prevent, respond to and mitigate incidents to reduce costly interruptions; to improve morale and strengthen productivity; as well as to protect the organisation’s corporate social responsibility agenda and reputation.

As such, all organisations with travellers, whether they are workers, volunteers or contractors, subcontractors or students, can benefit from implementing the practices outlined in PAS 3001.

Further guidance may also be found in the 2016 IOSH publication “Managing the Safety, Health and Security of Mobile Workers: An Occupational Safety and Health Practitioner’s Guide”. This outlines the aspects of safety, health and security for which organisations should take responsibility when they have workers travelling for work or on international assignments, including risk analysis by traveller gender, age, sexuality and disability.

The publication, developed jointly by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and the International SOS Foundation, addresses the need for careful planning and preparation in considering worker wellbeing and medical, personal safety and security issues.

Protecting your mobile workforce

Travel risks facing overseas employees can be as varied as threats to personal safety, suffering medical problems while overseas through to severe weather or combat risks.

Organisations should take reasonable steps to identify the risks facing their workforce in all global regions where they are active, and to put in place measures to mitigate and monitor such threats.

Employers should have and maintain effective and up to date health and safety policies that cover travel safety, health and security, and take proactive measures to ensure these policies are implemented through training and workforce engagement.

Carrying out risk assessments will enable you to understand the relative health, safety and security risks that will apply to employees while they are abroad, tailored to the specific location, type of assignment and the profile of the assignee.

The risks of working in an urban business district for example will differ to those operating in a designated no-go zone.

Female employees may also face greater personal safety risks in some regions, and the employer should have in place specific arrangements and training for women, addressing gender-specific legal or cultural restrictions such as dress codes to avoid embarrassment, offence or criminal prosecution.

Personal concerns should also be discussed with the individual employees, to enable the employer to make provisions to accommodate or avoid issues. This could include concerns about travel, a destination or a chronic disease or mental health problems.

Ensure that a system is in place to be able to pinpoint employees’ location in order to ensure their safety, testing these systems to ensure that they remain adequate and, if necessary, adapting tests to fit local requirements. Full itineraries should be prepared and consideration should be given to tracking and monitoring.

Prepare and educate employees about the locations where they will be working, arranging additional types of training if workers will be travelling to high-risk locations, such as security briefings and hostile environment awareness training.

Establish systems to stay fully informed of changing risks and be able to relay such information to employees while they are working remotely. In particular, refer to medical and security travel assistance providers and institutions such as the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, which offers up-to-date travel alerts.

Ensuring contact is maintained with travelling and overseas employees will also be critical. Provide employees with appropriate travel healthcare support, as well as access to a 24-hour helpline for support with medical or security questions, or facilitate the provision of emergency assistance, at a time when an employee’s usual points of contact may not be available.

Take advice to safeguard your mobile workforce

Your strategy for mitigating the risks facing travelling employees will be as unique as your workforce, global footprint and travel pattern.

Those responsible for developing mobile workforce strategies within an organisation require the knowledge and competence to properly assess and manage the safety, health and security risks that travellers will face overseas in various different cultural, social and work environments.

DavidsonMorris’ team of global mobility specialists help employers with all aspects of workforce management including the development and implementation of cost effective and compliant risk reduction strategies that combine tech solutions with industry leading practice.

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